Being a leader is difficult these days.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re president, governor, mayor, chamber CEO, or a parent, people look to you for answers and that sort of stress and pressure is undeniable.
What makes these roles so difficult in the days of social media is that everyone has something to say about how you’re doing and the decisions you’re making.
The truth is… none of us have all the answers. There are no handbooks of best practices that have been written from the past. We are putting the car together as we’re driving down the road. Luckily for us as chamber professionals, we have each other. Since we’re not in direct competition with one another we’re able to share resources, ideas, social media posts, and other components that can help lessen our load.
But ultimately, even if we get help with the heavy lifting, what we have to face is that feeling of dread that inhabits our minds after the “busy-ness” of the day subsides when we’re in our beds trying to make sense of the world and get to sleep. Even the most hopeful person can be plagued with doubts and fears.
As leaders, and the voice of business, we spend our days putting on happy faces for the sake of our community. But it is essential for your mental health to call out that feeling, that dread, that anxiety that keeps you awake at night. You have to be able to process your grief if you’re going to lead the community in the long-term revitalization it will need when the contagion is more contained.
This is a marathon, not a sprint. While you don’t need to voice every concern you have to the community, you need to process your grief, work through anxiety, and manage stress in order to be an effective leader.
Here are some ideas on how to process your grief, work through that anxiety and manage your stress.
What Is Grief?
Some people may shake their heads when we mention grief. They may say they don’t know anyone directly who has the illness or had the illness and passed away. These people may not think they’re grieving. But all of us are impacted by this pandemic and we all have things to grieve.
Grief doesn’t have to be about death. One can grieve anything that they miss. You can grieve normalcy.
This is not a judgment about the different types of grieving like losing a loved one versus grieving missing a vacation. Although we don’t often think of it this way, it’s all grief.
The Dangers in Grief
Grief can be like a fire. It can smolder and be largely under control or it can be a wildfire that quickly spreads.
A little bit of grief is like a controlled burn. It can be helpful for regeneration. But the problem with the grief that most people are facing today is that fear is acting as an accelerant for it. Fear is the gasoline that is causing grief fires to burn out of control.
The difficulty in dealing with grief is that you have to process it without getting caught up in it.
Often the very act of processing it brings people dangerously close to compounding their grief.
For instance, as a chamber leader, you may be grieving over the fact that you’re really going to miss your spring appreciation event. You look forward to this event every year and you love seeing the smiles on your members’ faces when they attend.
However, while you’re thinking about the fact that your event won’t happen this year, you may also start thinking about all your members whose businesses may not be around next year to celebrate the event. And then you might think about all the people who are employed by those members and how they’re not going to have jobs. And then you might be thinking about their children and how if the parents don’t have jobs, the children will be suffering as well.
And it goes on from there. Suddenly, you find yourself overwhelmed by the situation and the ripple effects it has on your community. A simple thing like a canceled event becomes a devastating moment for you.
Ways to Process Grief and Get Through Difficult Times as a Chamber Leader
Getting through difficult times as a leader requires a different approach then it does for someone who is just processing things on their own because people look to you. Your response will inspire or scare people. But you also can’t go through it alone pretending nothing is happening and you’re perfectly fine.
- Identify the grief. When you’re grieving a person’s death, it’s easy to know why you’re upset. But in the context of the current coronavirus pandemic, you may assume you’re feeling sad about one thing but upon digging deeper you find out there’s more to your concerns. Write down what’s bothering you. Then ask if that’s it. Is there something else? Get to the bottom of what you’re grieving and you’ll be able to process it more effectively. When you understand what the underlying grief is don’t belittle yourself or try to talk yourself out of it. It may be something “trivial” that you’re grieving. It may be something that’s related back to a different part of your life. Whatever it is, it’s yours. Your grief is different than anyone else’s and that’s okay. Don’t judge yourself thinking your grief is more shallow than others who are dealing with “real” setbacks.
- Mourn. After identifying your grief, give yourself time to mourn the reality of what you thought life would be right now. Often the hardest part about grief is getting over the ideal that we created for ourselves and processing it against the reality of what is. For instance, if you’re a community leader during a time where your community was enjoying unprecedented economic growth, you may have been tying your own leadership worth into this economic growth. Now that things appear to be spiraling out of control from an economic standpoint, you may be dealing with the reality that you are no longer associated with being a leader during a time of growth. This may change the way you view yourself and you may need to mourn that, especially if you are nearing the end of your term or position. You may need to mourn the fact that you may not be remembered as the economic growth leader. Much of the pain that we process is because we create realities for ourselves and when life changes course we have to readjust the world that we’ve created and the lens with which we view ourselves.
- Talk about it with someone. Find someone you can share your concerns with. Someone who doesn’t see you as their fearless leader but as a human who needs help walking through something and processing it. You may have a good friend who fits his role, a spouse, or you may want to pay a professional.
- Recognize that change is the only constant in life. Things may look difficult now. They may even look difficult for the rest of the year but at some point, two things will happen. Things will improve and you will grow better able to handle your new reality.
- Make time for self-care and sleep. You cannot lead a community through tense times running on fumes. Find something that brings you joy and do it every day. Also, make sure you get 7-8 hours of sleep. Grief often keeps people awake. Look into some calming activities in order to help get that number to where it should be.
- Give yourself some perspective. Once you have isolated your grief and allowed yourself that time to mourn, put your grief in perspective. Make sure you do the first few steps before you get to this point. There is no reason to downplay your grief initially. You want to be able to process it and the disappointment that goes with it even if you think some of it is silly. If you fail to do that, you will have a hard time moving on and the issues will crop up again when you least expect them. But once you have done these things, look at your grief with a newfound perspective. For instance, if you’re grieving over the fact you’ve been planning your son’s graduation party for months now and it doesn’t look like he’s going to be able to have one, you need to process that disappointment. Once you have, put it in perspective. Is your son healthy? Did he get a good education? Does he have lots of friends and will he be a successful member of the community? Then does a party celebrating all these things really matter in the long run? If you’re unsure, spend some time reading and listening to the stories of others. Figure out where your son’s party fits in the seriousness of things others are facing. Is this a catastrophe or an inconvenience?
- See the comparisons. If your grief surrounds a fear of something, think about another time where you have overcome a similar fear. With a pandemic, there won’t be any direct correlation. We’re facing this for the first time during the age of technology. But there are still things we can draw correlations from. For instance, if you’ve ever had a business go under you know that there’s life on the other side. It may not have been a pandemic that caused your business to fail but you’ve been through it. You have the strength to get through it again and help others do the same. Look for those correlations and life lessons and share them.
- Practice discipline. If you have ever given up eating something because it was bad for your body, then you practiced discipline. You must do the same thing for your mind right now. Just because a thought comes in does not mean you need to dwell on it. You can say “no” to it, just like you did potato chips. Not today, not tomorrow.
This is going to be challenging. You will stumble and may lose hope but you can do this. We will get through and what waits for us on the other side is what we are helping to construct today.